2018 Season Preview: Cleveland Indians

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

102-60

108-54

107-55

818

564

The 2017 Indians were possibly the best team we’ve seen in a decade, maybe longer. With 102 wins apparently the result of bad luck, words like “led the AL in runs allowed” aren’t that surprising. “Led MLB in runs allowed” is pretty impressive, considering the league they play in, and “beat third place by nearly 100” is frankly somewhat terrifying.

So let’s run down the single-season records they set:

  1. Pitching WAR
  2. Strikeouts (first team to 1600 in a season)
  3. K%
  4. K/9 (first team over 10 K/9)
  5. K-BB% (first team over 20%)
  6. FIP- (beat 1996 Braves by five percent)
  7. xFIP-

Also, they were third in wRC+.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Yonder Alonso

Hmm. That’s a bit of a letdown, considering how much buildup there was. Kind of like the postseason for the Indians, actually. Alonso is possibly the poster boy for the fly-ball revolution, considering how incredibly mediocre he was prior to 2017. Last season he broke out with the A’s and nearly doubled his career HR and WAR totals. He’ll serve to replace one of the players the Indians lost, which is a much longer list.

Key Losses – Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Bryan Shaw, Austin Jackson, Joe Smith, Boone Logan

While Alonso likely won’t replace Santana’s incredibly consistent production (2-4 WAR and 140-155 games for each of the last seven years), it likely won’t be a significant dropoff. Bruce’s 2017 was a serious return to form, as 2.7 WAR was his best year since 2013. Either the Indians saw through him and Jackson’s elevated BABIP or they believe in the health of Michael Brantley as a nominal replacement. Or, like Santana, they didn’t have the money to compete with other offers even if they would have liked a reunion.

The bullpen took serious hits as Shaw, Smith, and Logan were obviously useful members of that awesome staff, and while Cody Allen and Andrew Miller keep the ‘pen formidable, depth is certainly a bit more of a question mark.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

96-66

93-69

96-66

Strong agreement that not only are the Indians one of the AL’s better teams, they should win their division by anywhere from fifteen to twenty games. With the Tigers in full tank mode and the Royals losing whether they want to or not, the Central should include three of the sport’s worst teams and the Twins, who likely are decent at best. Cleveland might clinch by mid-August.

Key Players:

After sticking in a utility role until 2016, Jose Ramirez continued his breakout and finished 8th among position players in WAR. Not only is he a generally strong defender who can play multiple positions, there was a two-pronged power breakout with 29 dingers accompanying a league-leading 56 doubles. If that’s who he really is – or the still-great 2016 version appears – it will go a long way to helping a merely good Indians lineup. On the pitching side, Corey Kluber is obviously the big gun, with 200+ innings and 5+ WAR each of the last four seasons, including two Cy Youngs. Turning 32 just a few days into the 2018 season, there are certainly long-term questions but no immediate worries. Fellow starter Trevor Bauer’s constant tweaking may be paying dividends, as he posted his first three-win season. Something happened at the end of July, as Bauer allowed only a 2.42 ERA and struck out 10.2 per nine from 7/27 through the end of the year. If that continues, the Indians won’t just have two of the best pitchers in baseball, they’ll have at least three.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

As much as can be said about the Indians’ pitching staff, their offense does leave something to be desired. Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are the humming engines, soon to be joined by Bradley Zimmer’s incredible power/speed combination. Contact is another question, though not for Francisco Mejia and wherever he plays, be it catcher or right field (third base seems to have been nixed). Like most of baseball, Mejia boosted his power in 2017 while carrying a sub-14% strikeout rate in AA; if he’s a catcher, that’s a future star, and he should be a key member of the offense sooner than later no matter what. Supplementing the pitching staff should be Triston McKenzie and his hilarious 6’5”, 165-pound build; Cleveland’s 4 and 5 starters are currently Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin, which is completely fine, but McKenzie could be that elusive fourth ace they’ve been needing all these years.

Future Outlook:

There are two questions surrounding the Indians’ future: how long will the rest of the A.L. Central be horrible, and how will Kluber and Carlos Carrasco age? Both pitchers are nearing 32, and with considerable mileage and a couple injuries under them, there could be a hard, quick fall in the near future. But there is a good amount of help coming from the farm in the next couple of years, and much of the core is already signed to team-friendly long-term extensions. If they can sort out the bullpen after the departure of Miller and Allen this winter – or even if they can’t – Cleveland shouldn’t be challenged until 2020 at the earliest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s